MCALLEN, Texas – Edwards Abstract & Title Company recently hosted its annual State of Real Estate Forum at the McAllen Convention Center. The 200 or so VIPs in attendance came largely from the real estate industry.

Keith Patridge was one of the keynote speakers. In his remarks, the McAllen Economic Development Corporation president said the rhetoric that is being used to describe the border region has to change. He gave a specific example of how negative perceptions about the Valley were hurting business. 

“We have to change the dialogue from border security to border opportunity. We are getting hit terribly bad with that,” Patridge said.

“Mark and I were meeting with the chief financial officer of a company and he said that he was looking at moving a number of very highly paid executives and research scientists here. And he went to all of them and said, ‘look, we’re looking at putting a plant in McAllen, Texas, or potentially Oklahoma.’”

The “Mark” Patridge was referring to was Mark Garcia, executive vice president of McAllen EDC.

Patridge said the executives and research scientists were asked where they would like to move to, McAllen or Oklahoma.

“They said they would move to Oklahoma, but they would not move to McAllen because it’s too dangerous. That’s what we’re dealing with,” Patridge said.

“From a reality standpoint… as the (McAllen) mayor (Javier Villalobos) mentioned in his State of the City address: we’re the third safest city in Texas and the fifth safest city in the United States, based on FBI crime stats.”

So, the border region being described as in crisis is wrong and wounding the region, Patridge argued.

“That is a fallacy but it still is impacting our ability to bring companies in, who are then going to bring the managers in, who are then going to buy the houses that you guys are representing or building,” Patridge told the audience.

Adrian Villarreal, president of IBC Bank-McAllen told a similar story at a recent South Texas Health System news conference in Tres Lagos, McAllen. Villarreal said a developer from outside the Rio Grande Valley was reluctant to visit the region because of a negative perception.

“I was visiting yesterday with somebody who was a developer. He develops projects all across the nation, millions and millions of square footage and different types of properties,” Villarreal recalled.

“And while we were talking he was apologizing to me. I was kind of wondering, what are you apologizing for? And he said: ‘You know, I moved back to Texas (he resides in San Antonio) and I’ve always had this negative perception of what the Valley was like.’ And as he got more involved down here, he realized that his perceptions were all wrong. He realized that this is a very vibrant community that is growing. He realized that there are a lot of good people here.”

A discussion on negative perceptions about the border region also came up during a recent webinar hosted by the Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. The special guest was Rose Benavidez, chair of South Texas College and president of Starr County Industrial Foundation. The webinar was hosted by RGVHCC President Cynthia Sakulenzki.

Sakulenzki opened up the negative perceptions discussion by stating: “People who have heard very little of the Rio Grande Valley think it’s a sleepy little town with donkeys tied up to trees on the street corner.”

But, the truth, Sakulenzki said, is that many companies have discovered the Rio Grande Valley in the past 20 to 25 years and moved to the region.  

“We are the Magic Valley. We have SpaceX and a lot of different things. The Valley is truly a golden opportunity for businesses to come to,” Sakulenzki argued. 

“Not only the (fine) weather, but our people are willing to truly work and give 110 percent of themselves to their job.”

Benavidez responded: “Starr County and the border continue to be talked about as though we are the back door of America versus being the front door. I think we’ve slowly demonstrated that (we are the front door). The news cycle bubble creates a very unpleasant description and picture of the place that we love and that we call home.”

Benavidez said it is incumbent on everyone who lives in the Valley to tell the real story.

“We are our best ambassadors. We can tell people about how wonderful this place is to raise children, to invest in. I think as people become more familiar and more aware with the realities of the Rio Grande Valley and Starr County, it becomes a better location for people to understand.”

Benavidez added: “It allows us to feel proud about going throughout this country and this world and telling people where we’re from. Even if they don’t know anything south of San Antonio, because they think San Antonio is South Texas. 

“People will realize the very real beauty we have, the amazing people, and more importantly, that the love we have for this area, for each other and for our community is what continues to make the region strong and a viable location for people to invest in.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows Adrian Villarreal, president of IBC Bank-McAllen.

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